MR. RICHARD CUNNINGHAM, secretary of the Catholic Education Council, answers some questions arising from the Government's new proposals for comprehensive education.
Q.—Was the Catholic Education Council consulted before the announcement of the Government's proposals? •
A.—Yes, the Catholic Education Council was among the bodies who were shown the circular in draft. But before then Archbishop Beck had presented certain comments to the Secretary of State on problems raised by the new policy, and these comments based on the principle that our general policy must be to co-operate with the local education authorities, are reflected in the circular.
Q.—Will not the chanr-over to a new type of organisation in secondary education require additional building work at Catholic schools and hence involve Catholics in additional costs?
A.—Yes, this is certainly so. Al the moment . it is impossible to make accurate estimates of the eventual cost. We have drawn this problem to the attention of the Secretary of State and we hope to pursue it further with him. We cannot commit ourselves until this, matter is clarified.
Q.—How quickly will changes take place?
A.—This depends very much on the local education authorities. In a few areas changes are already under way, and in others planning is well advanced. But other authorities may find it much more difficult to follow suit. After all, it is not easy to convert a system of schools designed for one purpose so as to serve another quite different purpose. I think that the pace of change will vary greatly. It is possible that some authorities will not want to change at all. despite the Secretary Of State's appeal, Q.—What will happen to Catholic grammar schools in areas where
local education an contemplate early changes: A.—There is not likely to be any universal answer. and at this stage it is very difficult to give any answer at all. But it seems likely that some will become the senior schools in a two-tier organisation of secondary education. taking only pupils over 13 or 14 and a rather wider 'range of ability than at present. It is important to note that the circular states that the Government do not seek to impose "destructive or precipitate change on existing schools". While we for our part must he ready to recognise that secondary schools of all kinds should undergo some change in their scope, we must insist that the resulting system shall not be less academically viable than it was before. We have gone to great lengths to build up the acamedie standards of our schools and we must see that we are in a position to maintain and raise these.
Q.—The circular specifically envisages the association of directgrant schools in the new changes. How will this affect the Catholic direct-grant schools?
A.—We have a considerable number of direct-grant schools, mostly* in the North of England. Largely as a result of historical circumstances. 0 u r grammar schools in the North arc largely direct-grant. while similar schools elsewhere, for instance in the London area. are aided.
But both types form an essential
part of our grammar school provision and local authorities pay for the bulk of the places at our direct-grant schools. In these conditions it is very desirable that they should be associated with local plans and not omitted from them —in the Liverpool archdiocese alone they provide 18,000 essential secondary school places. Though their official title is direct-grant grammar schools there is no reason why they should riot develop a different kind of internal organisation—"grammar" is not a word which has any precise legal meaning, 1 he circular appears to imply that their direct-grant status will continue,
Q.—Where are we likely to meet the most difficult problems as a
result of the Government's plans?
A.—In areas with a small Catholic school System e.g. a small
secondary modern school and per
haps some free places paid for by the local authority at a Catholic
independent school, How does one move towards a comprehensive organisation when numbers are so very small?
But in some cases the whole Situation may be changed by an in
flux of population, so that what seems in the short term a very intractable problem may be more. easily solved in the long term. In cases of that kind it will he important to frame a plan in terms of the future as well as the present
In areas with a big Catholic population the problems will in general be less, since the larger number of schools will make it easier to arrive at a viable new system.
Q.—It would seem that the comprehensive school, as at present known, is not likely to become universal. Do you agree?
A.—Yes. It will probably become more popular, particularly
in areas of new development, where a school system is being planned from scratch. But else where the limited size of existing buildings will usually rule it out. Hence the likely popularity of
two-tier systems of secondary education, with a break at 13 or 14, which do often make it possible to end selection at 11 within the limits existing buildings.
Q.—What will happen to the free places at present paid for by LEAs at independent schools?
A.-All one can say at the moment is that this is something we have to watch very carefully. The circular says nothing on this point and simply ask LEAs to indicate their intentions in submitting plans.
Q.--Have you any final word of advice to Catholic parents and teachers?
A.-Just to emphasise that nothing is going to happen overnight.
Al the moment we have a call
from the Ciovernment for changes, hut changes to be made by local
authorities after local considera tion and consultation. They are asked to submit proposals by one year from now, including shortterm proposals covering a period of three years starting not later than September 1967.
On the Catholic side there will have to be thorough consultations and no precipitate decisions are going to he taken. There is therefore no point at all in premature worrying at this stage.